Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Mixture Of Veterans And Youths, Four Women Into The Second Week (2015 AO)

American women found success at the first grand slam of the year. A mixture of veterans and new faces, led by the Williams sisters, reached the second week of the Australian Open. 

Eighteen-time grand slam champion, Serena Williams, and her older sister, Venus, once again made the fourth round of a grand slam.  A first appearance at this stage for Venus in the singles since 2011, the year she was diagnosed with Sj√∂gren's syndrome.  On the brink of defeat in the previous round, the 34 year old showed resilience in a comeback over the big hitting Italian, Camila Giorgi.  Trailing a set and a point from double-break disadvantage, Williams fought off multiple break points to take the second set tiebreak before cruising in the decider to a 4-6 7-6(3) 6-1 victory.  The nearly 2.5 hour encounter was physical and emotional for the former World No. 1 trying to make her way back to the top echelon of tennis.  "It's definitely been a lot of work and a lot of learning and a lot of perseverance.  It will continue to be that for me.  Just have to come to terms with it", said Williams.  With the win, she is projected to rise to No. 12 in the WTA ranking and is slated to play No. 6 Agnieszka Radwanska who defeated American Varvara Lepchenko in straight sets.

Venus Williams

Like her sibling, Serena, also had a tough time in her third round match.  The American World No. 1 lost the first set to 20 year old Elina Svitolina of Ukraine before raising her level to complete the turnaround 4-6 6-2 6-0.  The 33 year old looks to improve upon her fourth round showing last year and hopes to capture her sixth Australian Open crown since 2010.  She will take on another upcoming youngster in Garbine Muguruza (ESP).

While the latter stage of the Aussie Open is a familiar place for Williamses, it is an uncharted territory for newcomers, the "Madisons", Keys and Brengle.  For Nineteen year old Madison Keys and twenty-four year old Madison Brengle, reaching the fourth round is a milestone.  In fact, the older Madison never won a grand slam match until last year's US Open.  Since breaking into the Top 100 after her home slam, Brengle steadily climbed the ranking.  Last week, the Delawarean qualified and reached her first career WTA final at the Hobart International before falling to British No. 1 Heather Watson.  With her recent success, she is expected to break into the Top 50 for the first time.  A great accomplishment for someone who almost didn't make the trip down under due to skin cancer removal surgery on her leg and jaw during the offseason.  After downing compatriot CoCo Vandewedge in straight sets, up next for Brengle is her namesake in Keys guaranteeing an American quarterfinalist.

The biggest upset of the tournament thus far belonged to Madison Keys.  The teenager dispatched 2-time Wimbledon champion and No. 4 seed, Petra Kvitova,  6-4 7-5 for the best win of her young career.  Keys went toe to toe with the big hitting Czech and overpowered the lefty from the baseline at times.  It was a display of power tennis from both players on Rod Laver Arena with the youngster a bit steadier with one more winner and seven less errors.  After the scalp, Keys was so excited she could hardly talk.  On her coaches, 3-time grand slam champion Davenport and her husband, Keys said she learned a lot in the offseason and that “Lindsay and Jon have been amazing”.

Madison Keys

With four players, the United States had the most participants left in the draw followed by Romania and Russia with two each.  Overall, a successful tournament for the American contingent.  Twelve women advanced to the second round and seven to the third round (Vandeweghe, Lepchenko, Mattek-Sands).

On the men side, things did not look as bright for the red, white, and blue.  No American male made the fourth round of the Australian Open since Andy Roddick in 2011.  USA No. 1, John Isner, fell to Gilles Muller of Luxembourg 7-6(4) 7-6(6) 6-4 and Steve Johnson to World No. 5 Kei Nishikori 7-6(7) 6-1 6-2 6-3 in the round of 32.  Donald Young and Tim Smyczek lost to top tenners, Milos Raonic and Rafael Nadal, in the second round respectively.

Tim Smyczek and Rafael Nadal

Smyczek's loss was the most heartbreaking.  The 14-time grand slam champion was under the weather and dealt with cramps early in the  match, but Smyczek didn't capitalize.  After leading two sets to one,  the 27 year old Milwaukee native got tight and started spraying errors gifting the fourth set.  Nadal raised his level in the decider and took control of the match showing why he is a great champion.  Despite the loss, Smyczek had garnered attention for his effort and more.  He was praised for his sportsmanship, a rarity in the sport.  While Nadal served for the match at 6-5 30-0, a spectator shouted during his service motion causing a fault.  Smyczek signaled to the umpire to give the World No. 3 his first serve again.  Many players wouldn't give up the advantage in such a tight contest.  "I couldn't make out what he said. I don't know if the guy didn't know he was tossing the ball or not, but it clearly bothered him. You know, I thought it was the right thing to do", claimed the American.

Denis Kudla also let an opportunity to upend a seed in the opening round slip by.  The 22 year old was unable to serve out the match against No. 12 Feliciano Lopez in the fifth set, despite having three match points, eventually falling to the Spaniard 10-8.

Players Press Conference (Transcripts)

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